One of the most read articles on lcnme.com this week was about the arrest of the head administrator at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset on a charge of operating under the influence.
We wish as many people would read our extensive coverage in recent years about the jail and the problems in Maine’s county corrections system.
The courts will decide whether Col. Mark Westrum is guilty of OUI. If he is convicted, the jail board will have to decide whether someone with an OUI conviction should run a jail.
We don’t take OUI lightly. Drunk drivers endanger everyone on the road.
But the jail board and the public should also consider Westrum’s service to Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties – and particularly his creative problem-solving as the state has seemingly done everything in its power to make it impossible for county jails to function.
First, Gov. Paul LePage, because the state did not have direct control of jail budgets, cut off a crucial source of revenue for the jails.
Then the Legislature enacted a law that prevented jails from charging per-day fees to board other counties’ inmates – another crucial source of revenue for “flagship” jails like Two Bridges, and a crucial avenue for other jails to ease overcrowding.
Westrum first made some difficult decisions about staffing levels, then negotiated contracts with three counties to house a certain number of inmates.
This workaround has allowed the jail to balance its budget and begin to restore staff without any help from the state, due in no small part to Westrum’s leadership and skills as an administrator.
Now the jail, as board Treasurer Ham Meserve mentions in his letter this week, is looking at a long-term partnership with other counties to ensure its sustainability for years to come.
We believe in holding people in positions of authority to a higher standard. But we also believe everyone deserves a second chance.
When Westrum’s case reaches a resolution and the jail board takes its next step, it should consider his record of service to Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties as well as the events of Oct. 7.